Usability and Mobile Devices – Part I – The Issues

With the kind of attention given to usability of regular desktop or web-based applications (sic), is it any surprise that most mobile applications are downright annoying to use? Many reasons contribute to this sad state of affaris – general lack of User Centric Design and Interaction Design awareness, applications being written for the developers themselves (as opposed to regular or specific users), a philosophy of miniaturization rather than careful thinking and planning of the application UI and technical limitations. The one that causes me the most amount of frustration is the indifference.

Nothing new here – this is the same indifference that causes you to reach for a nearby rock to lob into your computer screen. The fact is, given the much smaller form factor – smaller screen, smaller buttons and the associated painfully slow text input, potentially single-hand operation, potentially flaky network connections, slower processors for some older models, no mouse (with black-berry type devices) – the need for carefully thought out, user centered design is even more important. On top of these issues, some mobile browsers only support vertical scrolling, devices are different in soft-key placement and use, users have to often pay by the byte for bandwidth used – all add to the overall problem. These issues only serve to lay more constraints on the application designer. And yet, most mobile software development teams don’t seem to care – and they treat their users with the same disrespect they treat PC users.

I plan to write a series of articles that address a few of these issues – and how to design better interfaces for mobile devices. Not too much in these thougts will probably be original – but will essentially be applied user-centric design priciples for mobiles. Hope they help!

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